Melbourne: Sania Mirza yanks her thumb down to touch the underside of her forearm. "See?" she giggles. "I'm double-jointed."
The 25-year-old Indian, whose tennis world ranking once rose as high as 27th in singles, has endured a torrid time with injuries that left her unable to hold cutlery properly let alone a racquet. The Mumbai native, who married former Pakistan cricket captain Shoaib Malik and is now based out of Dubai, says the hyper-mobility in her joints has been both a blessing and a curse in her career.
"Not many people know but my joints are extremely hypermobile and that's why I'm more prone to injuries," Mirza told Reuters in an interview. "That's why most of my major injuries were with the joints."
"I had a career-threatening wrist injury where picking up a fork to feed myself was a problem and the thought of playing tennis again was so far from my mind. It's hard to get back to normal when you've had three surgeries before you're 25."
Now back on the road to full fitness, Mirza has reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open mixed doubles with Mahesh Bhupathi and while her joint condition has kept her off court for long periods, it has also helped her game on court.
"Because of the laxity in the wrist, that's how I generate the forehand power. So it's got its positives and negatives. It's just great to be back playing again, and winning is a bonus."
In a country where cricket is king, Mirza took tennis to a new level in India and had to get used to living life in the public eye, where every little detail of her life made headlines.
"We're a billion people in India and being famous comes with a price," she reflected. "The good price is so many people respect you, they pray for you, they love you and what you have done for the country. On the flipside, people have opinions about everything, everyone is a critic, everyone knows tennis better than you do. You kind of just have to live with it."
Mirza had thoughts of quitting the game in 2008 after being accused of showing disrespect to the Indian flag at the Hopman Cup and faced criticism from religious groups for playing in normal tennis attire. Her relationship with the media has been a rocky one.
"I was one of the few people who have lived in the public eye since I was 15. At first they just talked about tennis and then they started talking about everything else."
"It takes time to get used to that, it's been 10 years, I'm 25 and I'm still getting used to some things. I can't lie, if people say something bad or negative, it hurts but you have to try to block it out. That's why all of us in the public eye try not to read as many newspapers."
When fit, Mirza is one of the premier doubles players in the game and has high hopes of bringing back a medal from the Olympic Games this year.
"Trying to get a medal is the priority but just representing India is very special to me," she said, adding that it was up to the Indian tennis association to decide whether she partnered Bhupathi, Leander Paes or Rohan Bopanna in London.
"I've done well with all three of them so we'll see. Seven months is a long time in a tennis player's life so we'll see who's healthy and who's not and take it from there."
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